from the booklet

Blue Gold

The global water crisis and the commodification of the world's water supply

A Special Report issued by the International Forum on Globalization (IFG)

by Maude Barlow
National Chairperson, Council of Canadians
Chair, International Forum on Globalization (IFG) Committee
on the Globalization of Water


Not long ago, the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Declaration marked a turning point in the long international quest to assert the supremacy of human and citizen rights over political or economic tyranny of any kind. Together with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Declaration stands as a twentieth century Magna Carta. Besides granting full human rights to every person on earth regardless of race, religion, sex, and many other criteria, the Declaration includes the rights of citizenship, services and social protections that every citizen has a right to demand of his or her government.

These rights include social security, health, and the well-being of the family, including the right to work, decent housing and medical care. The covenants bind governments to accept a moral and legal obligation to protect and promote the human and democratic rights outlined in the Declaration and contain the measures of implementation required to do so. The individual rights and responsibilities of citizens as established by the Declaration, together with the collective rights and responsibilities of nation-states as established in the covenants, represent the foundation stones of democracy in the modern world.

Yet a half-century later, the lack of access to clean water means that more than one billion people are being denied a right guaranteed them in the United Nations Declaration. Over those fifty years, the rights of private capital have grown exponentially, while the rights of the world's poor have fallen off the political map. It is no coincidence that the deterioration and depletion of the world's water systems has taken place concurrent with the rise in the power of transnational corporations and a global financial system in which communities, indigenous peoples and farmers have been disenfranchised.

The role of the state has been profoundly altered in recent decades. As writer and activist Tony Clarke explains, "Stateless corporations are effectively transforming nationstates to suit their interests in global transnational investment and competitiveness." It appears that governments and government institutions, even the United Nations, have become, at worst, captive to these corporate forces and, at best, unable to stand up to them. Citizens have been largely left to fend for themselves.

In recent years, an international movement of workers, social advocates, human rights groups and environmental organizations has come together to put human and ecological issues back on the political agenda. They are forming powerful alliances with one another to affect government policy in their own countries and around the world and to dismantle or reform global institutions working against them. Public educators are meeting with one another to stem the assault on public education. Environmentalists are working together to slow the progress of international trade agreements. International anti-poverty activists meet regularly to forge a new international "Social Contract" for adoption by governments.

Similar groups are coming together to forge links and take direct action to protect water. The Blue Planet Project is an international initiative begun by The Council of Canadians to protect the world's freshwater from the growing threats of trade and privatization. During the March 2000 World Water Forum in The Hague, activists from Canada and more than a dozen other countries organized to oppose the Forum's privatization agenda and kick-start an international network to protect water as a common resource and a basic human right. A grassroots civil society movement, The Blue Planet Project, intends to become an active force in every country and community in the world.

Information on this project can be found at

The time has come to take a clear and principled stand to stop the systematic devastation of the world's water systems. In the long term, nation-states have to be re-tooled in order to establish the regulations and protections necessary to save their water systems. International law must be developed that recognizes and enforces the social obligations of global capital in the interests of the global "water commons." Most important, the citizens of planet earth must move, and quickly, if we are to save it.

Blue Gold

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